Beginning in October 2018, the government operation secretly tracked the movements and actions of humanitarian activists who provided aid to migrants, leading to the activists being harassed and detained at the border. In some cases, they were refused entry to Mexico or forced from that country if already there. The three plaintiffs include two lawyers who direct programs for the non-profit legal organization Al Otro Lado, and one documentary filmmaker whose foundation provides filmmaking tools and training to allow vulnerable communities to create their own narratives.
In response, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and the law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP filed a First Amendment lawsuit on behalf of the three humanitarians placed on a secret government watchlist for no other reason than their compassion.
The government program not only spied on them, but also put alerts on their passports leading to them being interrogated, detained, and in some cases refused entry at the border. This program remained secret until it was revealed in a series of investigative reports by NBC7 television news in San Diego. The program's database uncovered by the investigative journalists included not only dossiers but also, chillingly, photos of 59 humanitarian activists, journalists, and social medial influencers, including the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.
The lawsuit asks that any information gathered by the government program on the plaintiffs be expunged and that an order is issued to cease spying on them.